Thanks to quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers dismantling of the once ballyhooed Atlanta Falcons, today's NFC Divisional Playoff game between the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks has a much, much deeper storyline.
Along with a chance to now host the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field and be one game away from another trip to the Super Bowl, the chance to face the Packers in the highest possible arena changes everything.
Bears-Packers is the oldest rivalry in the NFL, going back to 1921. Since then, the teams have faced each other 180 times, with the Bears holding the advantage 91-83-6. There are a myriad of stories from the rivalry between George Halas and Curly Lambeau to an almost as bitter one between Mike Ditka and Forrest Gregg.
Stories like when Bears' founder Halas discovered that Lambeau had used college players under fake names. Halas was the driving force in getting the Packers banned from the NFL. By the time the Packers were readmitted, the three players had graduated college and Halas had signed them for the Bears.
Or like when Packers coach Vince Lombardi received a knock at the locker room door one day moments before they took the field against the Bears. It was Halas, who looked the coach in the eye and said, "I just wanted to make sure you're ready because we're gonna kick your [butt]!"
The rivalry limped on in the 70s, 80s and 90s, as each era failed to see both teams contend at the same time. The only moments to truly fan the fires was 61-7 Bears romp in 1980, Packers DL Charles Martin slamming Bears QB Jim McMahon on his shoulder and the utter dominance Brett Favre exerted over Chicago.
However, when Bears head coach Lovie Smith took the helm, he stated with absolute conviction that his first goal for his new team was to beat the Packers. That goal superseded winning the division and the Super Bowl. Some might question the wisdom and classify that statement as having your priorities out of whack, but if you're a diehard fan of either one of those teams, you jumped out of your chair as soon as you heard it.
This season is a tale of two very different franchises. The Bears won the first matchup, the Packers the second. The Bears were NFC North Champions. The Packers were preseason favorites. The Bears weren't picked better than third and still have not garnered any respect with every victory being labeled as just the product of simple, dumb luck. The Packers missteps have been apologized for and excused as being the result of injuries.
And yet here they are, one Chicago win away from the highest possible profile for a Bears-Packers game since the week after Pearl Harbor was bombed. For all the times these two storied franchises have met, they've only faced off once in the playoffs—in 1941—which the Bears won 33-14.
The outcome may be different this time, but as a fan, you could not ask for a better stage to showcase the NFL's oldest and greatest rivalry.